Hitman: Absolution - AVForums Hands-On Preview

Ben Ingber

Well-known Member
Fans of Agent 47, the bar-coded anti-hero of the Hitman franchise, have had legitimate cause to be cautious about the forthcoming release of Absolution. The series has been in gaming limbo for six years and in the interim developer IO Interactive have hardly showered themselves in glory, having delivered little more than a couple of woefully sub-par Kane & Lynch games.

In addition, the deliberately provocative “Attack of the Saints” trailer, which featured Agent 47 violently murdering a crew of PVC-clad nuns, went down badly with many fans not just for the obvious reasons, but also because it implied a potentially unwelcome shift in gameplay direction towards overblown set-piece action sequences.

For many fans the key to the success of the previous Hitman games was that the stealth gameplay mechanics were at the heart of the game. The idea that IOI might reduce Agent 47's trademark sneaky-sneaky (that’s the technical term) to no more than a gameplay element understandably ruffled some feathers.

Well I played through a little over an hour of Hitman: Absolution and I’m relieved to report that many of those concerns can be dismissed. There are tweaks and additions, of course, and shooting has been completely overhauled, but Absolution undoubtedly feels like a Hitman game.

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The plot follows on neatly from the events of the previous release, Blood Money, and takes a surprising twist early on... a twist that I have to confess has sat less and less comfortably with me in the days since I played it, but I'll save the spoilers for another time.

Let’s face it though, fans aren’t in it for the story. Proceedings kick off with a linear tutorial, but it soon opens up and allows the player some agency. New mechanics are introduced, most notably Instinct Mode, which won’t be entirely unfamiliar to anyone who’s seen Detective Mode in one of the Batman ‘Arkham’ titles. Instinct Mode highlights enemies and predicts where they’re heading, as well as distinguishing objects in the environment that can be used to Agent 47’s advantage. Despite being initially cynical about its inclusion, I found it added a welcome dimension to the gameplay. But traditionalists can rest easy - if you so wish, Instinct Mode can be turned off.

I was curious about the shooting mechanics so towards the end of my time I put Absolution through its paces by going postal in a hotel. In previous games, Agent 47 was awkwardly rigid, and his trademark Silverballers lacked substance. These issues appear to have been addressed in Absolution. While I can’t think of any reason why anyone would want to run around shooting everything in a Hitman game, it’s good to know that if a player so chooses they can do so without frustration.

It’s worth mentioning that as well as tightening up the shooting mechanics, IOI have also added a new feature - a brazen copy of Splinter Cell: Conviction’s “Mark and Execute” (or Red Dead’s “Dead Eye”). The game slows to a crawl allowing the player to casually tag a number of enemies, who Agent 47 will dispatch with a single press of a button.

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Of the handful of levels I played, the stand out was undoubtedly King of Chinatown.

Fans of Blood Money will remember with fondness the Mardi Gras level that landed Agent 47 in the middle of a street party populated with what felt like hundreds - perhaps thousands - of revellers. I replayed sections of the game recently and even now, some half a dozen years on, the atmosphere of that level still impresses.

Yet IO's new engine improves on non-player character AI in almost every way. Chinatown feels truly alive. It buzzes with movement and chatter, every character feels unique, purposeful. The graphics are beautiful, which is important in a stealth game like Hitman, where any right-minded player will spend a good deal of time studying the environment.

But what really impressed me about King of Chinatown was the way in which that mainstay of Hitman games - player choice - was flaunted to the point of parody. Agent 47's target is right in the middle of the map, on a bandstand. A few police are dotted around, sure, but he's essentially in the open. He's accessible from every angle. The game is almost taunting you to walk right up to him and shoot him point blank.

One option is to head towards an apartment you've been told about that overlooks your target and contains a sniper rifle. Taking the shot is easy, but the police will descend upon you in moments. When I tried this route, I ended up knocking out a police officer, taking his uniform and slipping past his colleagues. Effective, but it almost felt as if I were letting the game down somehow.

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In keeping with the tradition of Hitman games, the best way to complete your mission is to do so and leave as if you were never there. There are at least two ways of doing this that I saw (I won't spoil the fun), but I'd be surprised if there weren't more. Every action you take in the game will impact on your score for the level, meaning you can directly compare your performance with your friends.

Finally, it's worth noting that this is the first game in the series to offer community functionality. ‘Contracts’ enables players to set tasks for one another within the existing level structures; any non-player character can be chosen as a target, and the aim is to kill them as fast and as cleanly as possible. It's a mouth-watering proposition and bodes well for Absolution's longevity.

If the rest of Hitman: Absolution plays as well as the first hour, I think fans of that trademark Agent 47 sneaky-sneaky are in for a real treat.

Hitman: Absolution will be released on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on November 20th, 2012.
 
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